A day after the Category 4 monster blew ashore along the Panhandle with 155 miles per hour winds, the Coast Guard said it rescued at least 27 people, mostly from homes damaged along the Florida coastline, and searched for more victims.
Since making landfall on Wednesday as a powerful Category 4 hurricane, the now tropical storm has left thousands of people without power, uprooted trees, turned homes and marinas into ruins and killed at least 2 people.
Meteorologist Philip Klotzbach said Hurricane Michael is the third strongest hurricane to make landfall on the continental U.S. in recorded history.
Accuweather warned those along the path of the storm from northern Florida to southeastern Virginia should expect downed trees and power outages. Twenty-three miles up the coast in Panama City, blocks of beachfront homes were obliterated and debris lay strewn aside overturned vehicles.
An estimated 6,000 people evacuated to emergency shelters, mostly in Florida, and that number was expected to swell to 20,000 across five states by week's end, said Brad Kieserman of the American Red Cross.
FEMA's Long said he's anxious the number of deaths will rise Thursday.
On Wednesday morning, a Waffle House spokesman had announced that 30 restaurants in Florida and Georgia were closed in preparation for Hurricane Michael, including locations along the Florida Panhandle from Panama City to Destin.
A man was killed when a tree toppled onto his house in Florida and a girl died when debris fell into a home in Georgia, officials said and local media reported. No injuries were reported, but there's roof damage to "nearly every home" on the base.
After carving an agonizing path of destruction across the Florida Panhandle, Georgia and southeastern Alabama for almost 10 hours, Hurricane Michael finally slowed to a tropical storm at midnight and continued to weaken early Thursday.
Emergency responders weren't able to reach the home until after midnight because power lines and trees blocked the roads.
Roy Radney, 37, was more than an hour away when he got the call from his brother that his daughter Sarah had been struck in the head by a mobile carport leg that blew through the roof of his parents' southwest Georgia home Wednesday.
"I told my wife, Judy, 'Come on out, you want to see what a tornado looks like?'"
In his letter posted on the base's website, Laidlaw says crews need to clear trees from roads, fix power lines and "assess the structural integrity of our buildings" before anyone returns. We'll update this story as more information becomes available. Though most homes were still standing, no property was left undamaged.
Now, rescuers and residents are struggling to get into the ground-zero town to assess the damage and search for the hundreds of people believed to have stayed behind. I can't think of anything that is more related to hell than that, ' he said.
Scientists have long warned that global warming will make storms more destructive, and some say the evidence for this may already be visible.
Michael's strength may reflect the effect of climate change on storms.
There was extensive destruction around Panama City.